The Best in the World
The Atomic Dog is a weekly feature that isn't necessarily about weight training or bodybuilding. Sometimes it's about sports in general, sex, women, or male issues of some kind. At times it's inspirational, but it can also be informative, funny, and even a little weird, but hopefully, always interesting and a little controversial. We hope it reflects the nature of Testosterone magazine in that, just as no man is completely one-dimensional and only interested in one subject, neither are we. If it makes you think or laugh — or even get angry — it's served its purpose.
I sat with the best in the world. And I won.
— Matt Damon as Mike in the movie "Rounders"
There are about 150 of us sitting on folding chairs that have been arranged in rows. A fat kid is sitting directly in front of me. He's not just run-of-the-mill fat, he's Jared, pre-Subway fat. He's so fat he can only fit one ass-cheek into his folding chair. But the fat suddenly drops below my sightline. Oh my God, he's imploding! The fat kid's imploding!
But he's not imploding. The laws of physics haven't gone awry; instead, they're merely following due course because he's just plain too heavy for the chair and it collapsed. The hinges busted and he's on the floor with a folding chair clamped onto his blubbery butt. He looks like a bewildered bear that sat down on a rusty spring-loaded trap.
But no one else notices. They're all listening raptly to poker legend Annie Duke.
Non-poker players are always surprised by Annie's appearance. She's sort of a Goth-looking chick who looks like she belongs behind the counter at some all-night coffee shop that features poetry readings on Friday night. Despite this unlikely package, she's one damn good poker player.
Last September, she was invited to participate in the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions and she knocked out 9 other poker legendsall men — to win the 2 million dollar prize. She also defeated 234 players in this year's World Series of Poker $2,000 buy-in Omaha Hi/Lo tournament, along with winning the Bellagio $2500 Limit Hold 'em event.
Obviously, she's not just a poker novelty but one scary player. She makes serious money. She lives in Hollywood Hills. She drives nice cars. She probably dates pug-ugly rock stars with big dicks.
Annie is here tonight to promote her new book about her life. Me? I don't really care much about her life. I'm here because I won a small Texas Hold'em tournament and my prize was the chance to play her and a few other tournament winners in an exhibition match.... after she finishes talking up her no-doubt mesmerizing book about living in a shack in Montana with no water and then deciding one night to drive into Billings and play a few hands with the local gentry.
And the rest, ladies and gentlemen, is history.
While I'm waiting for them to set up the poker table and count out the chips, I flash back to the movie Rounders, which is one of the few movies ever made about Texas Hold'em. Matt Damon plays Mike, a New York City poker hustler. In the scene I'm thinking about, Mike is telling Knishplayed by John Turturroabout how he once sat down at the poker table with Johnny Chan, who many think is the best player of all time:
Mike: I played tight for an hour. I folded mostly. Then I made a score.
Knish: Wired aces or kings?
Mike: Rags. I had nothin', but, he raised, and I just decided, you know, I don't care about the money, I'm just gonna' outplay the guy. I'm gonna' outplay this guy, this hand. I'll re-raise.
Knish: Re-raise? You played right back at 'im, huh?
Mike: Oh yeah. He comes right back over the top tryin' to bully me like I'm some fuckin' tourist. I hesitate for like 2 seconds. I'll re-raise. And he makes a move towards his chips and he looks at me, and then he looks at his cards, and then he looks at me again...and he mucks it. I took it down.
I sat with the best in the world. And I won.
Knish: You fuckin' moved in on Chan, you son of a bitch!
Mike squaring off against Johnny Chan.
And this is exactly the way I played Annie Duke. The first hand? I had rags, nothing but a lousy Dolly Parton (a 9 and a 5, like the movie 9 to 5, get it?). I'm first to act so I go at her just like Mikey did to Chan. And it goes down exactly like it did in the movie. Everybody folds, except her. She raises me, but then I re-raised.
She eyeballs me and starts fluttering these long lashes at me. This isn't a typical tournament situation so she's wearing some make-up and her hair is dyed jet black. She's looking pretty good, actually, since she won all that money and got access to Hollywood's best cosmeticians. I actually got a little nervous because this bitch can peer into souls. She can tell I've got rags! She can tell I'm trying to picture her naked! Oh God she knows that I'm wearing women's panties because all my underwear are in the wash!
But maybe the image of me in the panties screws up her radar because... miraculously...she folds!
And then I do it to her again, this time with an unsuited Jack and an 8. She mucks her hand again!
I sat with the best in the world. And I won.
But of course I know that it's bullshit. Yes, I've studied the books, learned the probabilities, and played a lot of hands. Yes, I sat down with one of the best in the world. Yes, I won a couple of hands, but a couple of hands do not a career make. I know that, and the Matt Damon character should've known that, too.
You might, if you're lucky, throw a strike by Barry Bonds, but I guarantee you it's not going to happen with any consistency. One strike isn't indicative of anything. Neither is getting Annie Duke to muck two hands a sign of my poker genius.
I did learn an invaluable lesson, though. Ms. Duke might not necessarily know more about poker than I do, but what she does know is so ingrained, is such second nature, that her play is virtually flawless. For every fifty mistakes I make, she might make one.
As we played and the audience watched, Annie did a running commentary on the hands. She knew at a glance how many chips each player had and how many were in the pot. She knew with uncanny precision what most players were holding based on their betting patterns. She knew all the mathematical odds and percentages of every hand. She knew, while presumably being distracted by fielding questions from the audience, which one of several hands was the winner even before the professional dealer did.
She told one putz that while he raised $1100, he should have raised $1600, but since he didn't, she was gonna' play the hand and stick it up his ass. Well, she didn't say that part about sticking it up his ass, but it was definitely implied.
Either she slept at a Holiday Inn Express the previous night, or she really, really, knows the game.
She's played so many hands, read so many books, and studied so many probability charts, that it was all as natural to her as eating, sleeping, or fluttering those long lashes.
Me? I usually have to furrow my brow and search through the rubble of my brain for the correct move. Sometimes I get it in a few seconds, and sometimes I get it a half hour later when I'm driving home with no money in my pockets. There's no use fooling myself — Annie Duke would beat me drunk, exhausted, or brain damaged.
When you think about it, Annie's prowess in poker is no different than any success story in any business. Talented rookies come and go in all fields, but greatness is reserved for those who keep learning until their actions are flawless, until they can look at the Rubik's cube of a problem before them and know how to match up the colors in an instant.
It's the same for training and all the variables it entails: eating, resting, supplementing. If you're like most people, the more you read, the more you lift, the more pieces keep snapping into place. Sometimes, the long sought after answer is so obvious that you shake your head and say to yourself, "Now why the fuck didn't I think of that?"
A few weeks ago, new T-Nation writer Alwyn Cosgrove wrote something painfully logical, something that could only have been figured out by someone who's "played a lot hands":
Do you really think that the reason most guys don't have big arms is purely because of a lack of doing curls? Do we really have an epidemic of biceps curl deficiencies in gyms around the world?
Alwyn went on to explain how when the upper back and posterior chain are weak, they shut down the biceps when the biceps try to move a load that's potentially dangerous to the spine. The answer to being able to use heavier loads, and thus allow the biceps to do their workand grow — without fear of injury?
Why, building the strength of the upper back and posterior chain, of course.
Maybe you didn't think of that because of a lack of experience. For most of you, lifting weights is just a hobbyone you have a great deal of passion for, but a hobby nonetheless. As such, you don't have the luxury of spending every waking minute thinking about it or practicing it.
So you depend on people like Alwyn, Chad Waterbury, and Christian Thibaudeau, or any or all of the other pros who hang around T-Nation. They're our Annie Dukes, and most of what they know has become second nature to them.
One of the more maddening responses we get to some of our articles on T-Nation is, "Ah, I already knew all that."
File that one right under hubris.
You know how the gods punish hubris, don't you? They smite your ass. They bring pestilence down on you and your kine. Of course, when it comes to athletes they're usually a lot less obvious. Instead of withering your crops, they just wither you by keeping you small, weak, and slow.
C'mon, did you really know "all that?" Do you automatically have the answer to every training problem, every nutritional problem? Does it come to you instantly, or do you have to furrow your brow for a while? Do you correctly diagnose every problem, or do you make the occasional mistake, the occasional misdiagnosis, one that potentially slows you up for months or even years?
And even if you did know all that, is it second nature? Isn't it just possible that reading the info again and again stamps it into your brain for all time?
The advice applies to me, too. I'm not there yet, in poker or training, but I'm getting close. Say for instance I had to sit down with Thibs or Waterbury at the training table. I might not take their money, but it would take them more than just a few hands to knock me out of the game.
In the meantime, I'll continue to study, learn, and practice.
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